Optimism Overload: Is Positive Thinking Overrated?



Brian Sandler , Staff Writer

Everywhere one goes, they are met with insistence that in order to succeed in life, they must just “be positive.”

Self-help books fill the shelves (and our browsers) with affirmations such as: “Surround yourself with good people” or “If you’re positive, you can achieve!” Self-proclaimed gurus on our screens demand that we put a smile on our faces, as anything less is “utterly negative” and “will be a surefire way for you to not succeed.” But is it possible that there is such a thing as too much optimism? Is it perhaps not beneficial, even dangerous, to be too positive? Or are the “experts” right by saying that anyone who objects is just a “negative fuddy duddy?”

For those who are not as quick to see the glass as being half-full, they might be in luck. Robert A. Ferdman of The Washinghington Post used “Where’s Waldo” to explain how positivity might not be as super-powered as some claim.

“The third and most sobering of the three findings is that in every case optimism didn’t produce any measurable improvement in performance,” he said. “Those people who kept their head up and spirits high, looking longer and more intently for Waldo, still didn’t find him. Nor did those who took part in two other experiments which tested how optimism affects outcome show any tangible improvement in performance.”

But is this an invitation to be a negative nelly? Not necessarily, at least according to Tia Ghose of www.livescience.com.

Quoting Auxoid co-founder Sophia Chou, Ghose said that “Realistic optimists tend to choose accuracy over self-enhancement; the unrealistic optimists tend to choose self-enhancement.”

“Interestingly, the realistic optimists also got better grades, on average, than their less grounded peers — probably because they didn’t delude themselves into thinking they would do well without studying or working hard.”

So, is this an invitation to completely reject the glass half full life and do away with those who can’t seem to get their head out of the clouds? If the words of Jessica Cassity of “Happify Daily” are to be believed, optimists might have a slight edge in the realm of health.

“If you think that the world is inherently good, and that life will work out in your favor, you’re more likely to rate your own health and sense of well-being as better,” she said. “Best of all, it doesn’t matter where you live or what language you speak: These statistics came from a study of more than 150,000 people living in 142 countries. But optimism doesn’t just make you feel healthier—it can actually make you healthier, as these next few studies show.”

However, if one has to choose an ideology other than pure, unadulterated bliss, James Saward-Anderson of The Huffington Post warns not to choose a pessimistic one.

“A pessimist will take every action as a negative, an optimist a positive,” he said.

“The problem with the both of these is that events in life really do not come with a plus or minus sign attached to them. Granted looking at “bad” things with a positive outlook is admirable and an important step in personal growth but this can lead to behavior which is brash, arrogant and at worst delusional from the true nature of the event which happened to you.”

Ultimately, are the positive thought devotees best left untouched? Most likely, but either positive thinking or realism are ultimately preferable to pessimism.

That being said, if you’re going to be optimistic, be realistic in said optimism as well.